The ‘Right & Wrong’ Way of Doing Things

There’s an acronym, W.A.S.P.A, which is really popular in permaculture circles. It stands for Water, Access. Structures, Plants and Animals and lays out the order in which you should implement your design for ultimate ease and flow. Let me step you through the thinking and considerations…. And then confess a bit of a stuff up on our behalf when implementing our our design (an ongoing process).

1. Water

Implementing water first up can include large scale earth works (i.e. dams and keyline systems) where you have big machinery coming through your property, you can see our own earth works we’ve completed  here. As we’re on an urban block there are no dams, buts lots of terracing, and passive water harvesting systems, including swale paths. You really don’t want to be trying to do this work once you have other things in place i.e. fencing, as you’ll end up having to rip it out and put it back again, a whole world of pain which is best to avoid.

Of course, water systems can be happen on a much smaller scale and involve installing taps, drip line irrigation (something we’re still planning to do), rain tanks or simply digging a trench with a mattock and shovel to direct water flow. Regardless of scale, it’s best to get this all sorted first up so you can then support what’s to come – cause lets face it folks – water is life. No water no life.


A snapshot of the major earthworks we did on our place within a month of arriving. The blue lines indicate where the key access paths/swale paths are now located. 

2. Access

Access is super important and determines how you move around the site on foot, with your wheelbarrow, on your tractor or car. If you get it right, good access paths can improve efficiency drastically as well as double up with water harvesting systems.  Implementing access paths can often happen at the same time, or very closely after water systems are put in place. When working with large machinery, you can double up by carving in water harvesting methods and access roads/paths at the same time – this is what we did with our swale paths (below) and it’s working a treat.

2014-02-05-08.13.12-1024x768The early days of one of our key swale paths, providing both access and passive water harvesting

3. Structures

Structures can include tool/machinery sheds, fencing, animals shelters and your house (if building from scratch). At our own property there was an existing house (yay) with a downstairs space which currently functions are our workshop/tool shed. We do plan to build a glass house, however this is lower on our priority list compared to other structures such as fencing (which still isn’t 100% complete) and animals shelters such as our rather beautiful chook house.


Without a doubt the floppy fence is my favourite structure on our place, it allows us to grow and harvest crops without feeding all the local wildlife. Well worth the investment in time, money and energy.

4. Plants

Now, and only now, should you be looking to plant vegetation – edibles and otherwise. In our area, if you plant your crops before you have put your fencing up you might as well declare your garden a wallaby, possum and rabbit feast – they’ll be in there before you can say ‘bugger bugger bugger’. Your plants will also benefit massively from having good water systems set up and access paths for easy harvesting and maintenance. It all fits together beautifully. The first plants we put in was a stack of annual green manures to improve the soil which we’re still as the soil needs a lot of love. This particular growing season it turns out we’re growing 50:50 of vegies and green manures which we’ll do into winter as well as we’re thinking long term here.

10639512_836798769687703_8220657592843300869_nWe’ve had some bumper crops in our 2 years of being here, none of which could have happened without our water, access and structure systems in place (photo from October 2014).

5. Animals

Last, but not least – animals enter the system. For animals to thrive and not just survive they need a space which is well suited to their needs, otherwise it’s simply not ethical or appropriate to have them in there at all. We have chickens, ducks and honey bees at our own property.


The bees are beautiful and happy in their top bar bee hive (above). Our chickens have what we call the ‘stage one’ run which is more than enough space with good shelter – we’re actually going to be extending and integrating them more into our food gardens this year. But it’s still a good, healthy space for them right now.


And our ducks.? Well now this is where we smack ourselves on the wrists.

Our ducks were always in our design, but we weren’t planning on getting them as soon as we did. The idea was that we’d simply have two female ducks for egg production and slug control and that would be that. However – just over a year ago I happened to be in the vicinity of a bunch of cute-as fluffy ducklings and I wanted them right then and there – there was nothing more to it. So, despite not having a home or a pond set up for them, four ducklings came home with me. I chose four as I thought that at least two of them would be girls and the boys could be re-homed or eaten. I was told they were pure khaki campbells which are good breed as they don’t fly, are quiet, don’t destroy your crops so can free range in the vegie patch and are great egg layers.


However, a few things happened… It turned out they weren’t pure bred khaki campbells, but ‘bitzers’ as in a bit of this and a bit of that, so they liked to fly and eventually some did… Away from us. The ones that stayed turned out to be boys, bugger – and four was simply too many to have, even for a short while in our urban space. So we sorted out the numbers, bought in a pure bred lady khaki campbell and had some baby ducks with the intention of just keeping 2 girls. Today we have 5 ducks (2 adults, 3 teenagers) and a simple but great pond/fertigation system which is tops. However 5 is too many for our space, for the first time they’ve started eating our crops, specifically all our lettuces which is not ok. With just two ducks it was fine, they happily free ranged throughout our garden and had a little nibble here and there, but the increased numbers means there’s more hunger and more stress on our system, which we simply can’t support right now.

IMG_2017Exhibit A – the lettuces (and nothing else) have been getting hammered.

And this is where we come back to W.A.S.P.A… If we had followed this to the book our ducks would still be another year away and our lettuces would still be here. We need more time to finish installing the needed structures and plant systems which would support the ducks and us. But real life doesn’t always work like that, we’re an impulsive lot us humans and no matter how much we learn we will more often than not regress to instinctual ‘wants’. We’ve just made the decision to re-home our little duck family at a friend’s house and use this next year to complete some of our foundational structures before the ducks can come back, cause they’ll definitely be back. This means we want have to work as hard to have them here, and we all know that permaculture is all about with nature rather than for or against it.

We’re looking at it as a good and humbling reality check. A healthy reminder that we must always self regulate and admit when you may have got ahead of yourself. The great, fantastic thing about permaculture is the design framework – this is what sets it apart from other methodologies and gives it huge strength. It’s this framework that keeps us in check and provides a clear tool for us to use when we pause and reflect on the work we have done so far and are yet to do.

So here’s to learning, stuffing up, and learning some more. A non-stop ever evolving process!

10 Responses to “The ‘Right & Wrong’ Way of Doing Things”

  1. Cass

    I have had to add another S to the list – soil. It comes in after access. Thanks for giving me something to share with family to explain why the process of implementing my design is slow 🙂

  2. Mignon Mitchell

    When set out like this it becomes blindingly obvious…great information. Love the folkloric flourishes!

  3. Nick Towle

    Thanks Hannah and Anton for some great reflections and design insights.
    To add to this I have worked with a few individuals who have bought properties where considerable work had already been done on creating water systems, access roads and built structures. For anyone in this situation then it can be worth your while revisiting these with fresh eyes and not assume that such ‘inherited’ infrastructure will suit your needs. Obviously some large infrastructure e.g. a large dam, may be difficult or too costly to re-site, though there may be smaller practical changes that improve the final design. In one example the end of a gravel driveway was shifted from the north (sun side) to the south of the house, which freed up space for a highly functional warm microclimate on the north side.

    Thanks again for sharing and happy designing.
    Nick T

  4. Kym

    Great to read and very timely as I am at a PDC at the moment in Sydney with Milkwood! Will make sure to incorporate these into my PDC design planning – and importantly practice as well 🙂

  5. Nicole

    Thanks, really interesting article – the path/Swale and floppy fence in particular. My challenge in the northern suburbs of Sydney is brush turkeys – fences no object! So far I am protecting the ground around my plants from being scratched up rather than going for a completely enclosed garden. But I find my plans evolve as the ecosystem does – new critters appear as the food supply increases it seems! A different angle from the WASPA approach??


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